The Pentagon is eliminating its ban on women serving in combat.
The U.S. military is finally owning up to reality.
Women have been, are and will continue to serve in combat.
The announcement that the Pentagon is lifting its official ban on women in combat might almost be a “so what” occasion if not for the deeper implications for female troops and U.S. society.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision could open more than 230,000 jobs to women. Many of these jobs would be in Army and Marine infantry units.
Trends in modern warfare have altered the long-held notion of fighting in the trenches. Rarely are there clear front lines. Women already are serving on patrols, flying helicopters in danger zones and providing support in areas where gunfire can erupt or roadside bombs can explode at any second.
But without recognition for being in combat, opportunities for promotion are more difficult for women. This brass ceiling may be the largest form of discrimination remaining against women in the work place, and it is sanctioned by the U.S. government.
Women have accounted for more than 10 percent of those sent to war zones, but only 1.82 percent of those wounded and 2.26 percent of those who have died, according to Time.com. The nation will have to accept that those numbers will climb steeply as more combat positions are opened to women.
If the country makes a cultural shift by deciding that women’s lives are no more valuable than the lives of men, it could possibly lead to 18-year-old women registering for selective service alongside their male counterparts. Parents of daughters will have to ask themselves how they feel about that possibility.
Another concern involves the potential for sexual assault by enemy combatants or captors, but women are more likely to be the victims of their fellow troops. New York Times columnist Gail Collins reports that 3,192 cases of sexual assault were reported by female troops in 2011, and the crime is likely underreported.
The military will have to decide if there are certain jobs that women are not physically capable of filling, and how to apply physical requirements so they are not used simply as a way to discriminate against women.
Several countries — including Israel, Canada and New Zealand — have already proven that women can serve effectively in combat. And on a more limited scale, the United States has proven the same point.
If the United States is to continue functioning with an all-volunteer military, it will have to include women in expanded roles and will be best served by taking advantage of a wider pool of talent.